By Rosemary K. Otzman
Thomas A. White, whose law office had been at 35 Main Street in the City of Belleville for 20 years, was disbarred from the practice of law as of July 15 and filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy on July 19.
Only active members of the Michigan Bar Association are eligible to practice law in Michigan.
White had agreed not to take any new cases after May 22, the day he signed the Attorney Discipline Board’s Stipulation for Consent Order of Discipline through the Attorney Grievance Commission. Two clients called the Independent office reporting he had taken them on as clients since that date.
Also in the signed agreement he promised to repay some of his clients their lost funds, but when he filed bankruptcy that was put on hold.
Those 14 clients now are listed on his bankruptcy filing, but many others have called the Independent office and come in person in to tell of the money they said White took from them.
A 341(a) meeting of creditors is set for 11 a.m., Aug. 28, before Bankruptcy Trustee Wendy Turner Lewis at Room 315, 211 W. Fort St. Bldg., Detroit.
In his bankruptcy filing, White stated he had 1-49 creditors, had estimated assets of $100,000 to $200,000, and estimated liabilities of $1 million to $10 million.
On Oct. 12, 2012 a professional malpractice case was filed by Georgina and Jeffrey Hamilton vs. The Law Office of Thomas White. On Jan. 11, 2013, a consent judgment was filed for $50,000.
On March 15, 2013 a Writ of Garnishment was filed and on July 3 an Order to Seize Property was signed and filed.
Georgina Hamilton, of Van Buren Township, told the Independent that court officials went to White’s home and removed one John Deere tractor and attachments, four ATVs and an ATV trailer to satisfy the $50,000 judgment.
She said they had to give it all back after White filed bankruptcy because of provisions of the bankruptcy law.
Hamilton said they had hired White to represent them over a trademark infringement case against another person. She said by the time they were done it cost $20,000 in legal fees to another lawyer to turn around the mess created by White’s actions, but there was permanent damage to their business.
Hamilton said this was so distressing because she went to school with White. He had attended South Junior High and Belleville High School, graduating in 1986 near the top of his class. She said White is incompetent and a liar.
Michigan State Police Detective Marc Murray at the Monroe Post is investigating criminal charges against White.
Attorney Steven Z. Cohen had filed civil charges against White on Dec. 3, 2012 on behalf of his clients David, Dennis, Ed and Ronald Gallaway, Marilyn Lange, and Margaret Sawicki and a third party, Charter One Bank.
A status conference was held on April 9 in Judge Lita M. Popke’s chambers and the case is listed as “held for further settlement.” A deposition of White was being scheduled and a settlement conference had been set for Oct. 22.
This has been put on hold by the bankruptcy filing.
Cohen said he tried to file a malpractice insurance claim but White did not pay his malpractice insurance premiums. He said his clients might be able to get a little money from a legal victim’s fund.
On July 18 the final Notice of Disbarment and Restitution With Conditions (By Consent), which was effective July 15, was signed by John F. Van Bolt, Executive Director of the State of Michigan Attorney Discipline Board.
The document said, based on White’s plea of no contest, the hearing panel found that White:
• failed to refund an advance payment of fee that was not earned in violation of Michigan Rules of Professional Conduct (MRPC) 1.16(d);
• failed to promptly pay or deliver funds that a client or third person was entitled to receive, in violation of MRPC 1.1(b)(3);
• neglected a legal matter entrusted to him in violation of MRPC 1.1(c);
• failed to seek the client’s lawful objectives through reasonably available means permitted by law, in violation of MRPC 1.2(a);
• counseled a client to engage in, or assisted a client to engage in, conduct the lawyer knows is illegal or fraudulent, in violation of MRPC 1.2(c);
• failed to act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing the client, in violation of MRPC 1.3;
• failed to keep a client reasonably informed of the status of a matter, in violation of MRPC 1.4(a);
• failed to explain a matter to a client to the extent necessary to permit the client to make informed decisions regarding the representation, in violation of MRPC 1.4(b);
• charged or collected a clearly excessive fee, in violation of MRPC 1.5(a);
• failed to communicate the basis or rate of the fee to the client before or within a reasonable time after commencing the representation, in violation of MRPC 1.5(b);
• entered into a business transaction with a client where the terms of the transaction were not fair and reasonable to the client, in violation of MRPC 1.8(a)(1);
• entered into a business transaction with a client without giving the client a reasonable opportunity to seek the advice of independent counsel, in violation of MRPC 1.8(a)(2);
• failed to promptly notify a client when funds or property in which a client has an interest was received, in violation of MRPC 1.15(b)(1);
• failed to promptly pay or deliver funds or other property that the client was entitled to receive, in violation of MRPC 1.15(b)(2);
• failed to timely deposit and maintain property of his client or third persons in an IOLTA account and failed to hold property of his clients or third persons separate from his own, in violation of MRPC 1.15(d); and
• brought a proceeding, or asserted an issue therein, where the basis for doing so was frivolous, in violation of MRPC 3.1.
The panel also found that White violated MRPC 8.4(a)-(c), which includes engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation, and Michigan Court Rules (MCR) 9.104(1)-(4), which includes entering into an agreement to prevent a party from bringing a grievance, requiring the party to drop a grievance, or to seal evidence of a grievance from court records.
White was ordered to be disbarred from the practice of law in Michigan and pay restitution in the aggregate amount of $333,604.67. He also was ordered to be subject to a condition relevant to the alleged misconduct. Costs were assessed in the amount of $1,801.53.
By Rosemary K. Otzman